LACOOCHEE, Fla. (AP) A rodeo queen from Florida has died following an accident at a competition last month in Mississippi.
The Tampa Tribune (http://bit.ly/1Rta1gQ) reports that Lara Dewees, who would have turned 28 on Monday, died from her injuries the day before her birthday. She was injured at a Feb. 20 competition. Dewees was from Pasco County, just north of Tampa.
Dewees - a national barrel racing champion, accomplished singer and beloved schoolteacher - was somewhat of a celebrity in her hometown of fewer than 2,000 people. She had been crowned Miss Teen Rodeo Florida 2007, was a cancer survivor and was the mother of an 18-month old boy.
She had been trying to retain her 2015 title as the Women's Professional Rodeo Association Southeastern Circuit Divisional Tour Finals Reserve Champion.
A third-generation rodeo competitor, Dewees was riding horses before she could walk, her grandmother, Jeanette Sasser, told the newspaper.
''She got her first horse when she was 3,'' said Sasser. ''She grew up in the saddle and she just loved the rodeo.''
Her uncle, Spunk Sasser, 50, is the second-most-decorated cowboy in the Southeastern Rodeo Circuit. Her father, Steve Dewees, was a rodeo calf roper. And her mother, Lisa Belcher, was a barrel racer.
On Feb. 20, Dewees was competing with her newest horse, Genny, when she dropped the reins and they flew over the animal's head.
Just as she trained to do, Genny, continued circling the barrels and when she finished, she headed toward the arena's exit gate.
The gate should have been closed to prevent the horse, which had been shod with shoes specifically intended for running on dirt, from accessing the asphalt driveway, Sasser said. Genny slipped on the asphalt and Dewees, without the reins to keep her on the horse, flew off, landing on her face.
A funeral service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at Spunk Sasser Rodeo Arena, 21454 Pinkston Road. More than 500 well-wishers are expected to attend. Her barrel-racing friends will follow behind the casket on their horses. Everyone attending is asked to wear purple in Dewees' honor.
Information from: The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, http://www.tampatrib.com